Becoming an Agent of Positive Change
By Dan Brauchli • February 7, 2019
Growing up in Philadelphia, Pa., Maurice Scott Jr., 24, was always surrounded by athletics. Whether on television or in person, sports were always a part of his life. As time would tell, the world of sports would provide Scott a platform to thrive and to play a role as an agent of positive change.
“Gym class introduced us to some of the more popular sports — basketball, football, baseball, soccer,” Scott said. “I ended up going to Maritime Academy for middle school, a school built around having a focus on water education, so while I was there, I also got introduced to swimming and sailing.”
Life-changing moments come in many shapes and sizes. Whether small or large, a gesture of outreach and inclusion can change the projection of one’s life path. Because of Scott’s schooling at Maritime Academy, he was introduced to rowing in fifth grade.
“Bachelors Barge Club somehow got information to Maritime Academy,” Scott said. “They were hosting a two-week learn-to-row course and wanted students to come by. As somebody that was interested in water sports, the opportunity came about, and I gave it a shot. The learn-to-row-program was free and they put us in these big barges, in which we were side-by-side with someone else. It allowed me to get my feet wet and find out what the sport was about. [It was] a great introduction. After the program, I kind of just settled back into the basic sports with easy access.”
Such would be the case as Scott grew up, finishing his time at Maritime Academy and continuing his education at Parkway Center City High School, where he played volleyball. Then in 2010, rowing came around again, this time presenting him with a more permanent opportunity.
“In 11th grade, Philadelphia City Rowing came to my school and pretty much promoted this new program they were about to launch,” said Scott. “I wanted to try [rowing] again. During my learn-to-row all those years back, I didn’t see many people of color in the sport. Back then, my dad told me that if I wanted to participate in the sport, I had to be willing to stand out a little bit and go out of my comfort zone. So once Philly City came about, my name was first on that list.”
In September of 2010, the PCR program launched. Scott was one of the nine boys and nine girls to participate that first year.
“Princeton donated us some boats to row in, but we didn’t have much to get started,” said Scott. “We were all grateful to have the opportunity to do all of this for no cost.”
Limited space, availability and time on the water would all make for a steep learning curve for Scott and his teammates, but once they lined up on the Schuylkill to face off against other schools and programs in the area, they gained a new sense of belonging.
“Racing against, and eventually beating, teams that had this outstanding history showed us ‘we can actually do this; we belong with these guys.,’” Scott said.
Even after just one season on the water, college recruitment began for Scott.
“After my junior year, I got my first taste of college recruitment,” said Scott. “I was talking with the Navy lightweights and that led to a realization that I was actually doing something. I was working hard. I got to be one of the first athletes from PCR to be recruited. Rowing opened doors for me that I never even knew existed.”
The magnitude of any given race didn’t matter, Scott and his teammates found victories in many facets.
“Twelfth grade came around, and we were racing the varsity four, which was a big jump, going straight from novice to varsity level,” Scott said. “Placing fourth at Mid-Atlantic regionals, just missing nationals, still was a triumph for us. We didn’t have the four years to learn and excel, but we were still right there in the thick of things.”
Scott was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy and quickly headed up to Newport, R.I., to attend the Academy’s prep school for student recruits. Just two short weeks before his completion of the prep program, he received news that he would soon be deemed ‘medically disqualified’ from the Academy. Countless phone calls, references, and appeals did not work in his favor. Luckily with fast-acting decision making, Scott was able to apply to civilian four-year universities and was accepted to Arcadia University with a full scholarship.
Continuing his education at Arcadia led to a two-year hiatus from rowing for Scott, but nevertheless, he gave his time volunteering for PCR.
“Even though I wasn’t on the water myself, I still wanted to give back to the organization that gave me these opportunities,” said Scott. “Summer learn-to-rows mainly, but if I could come down to PCR during the school year, I’d try to do that too.”
Those volunteer hours created an itch to get back on the water.
“When that second year came around, I knew rowing was still a part of me,” Scott said. “I wasn’t happy not rowing. I knew I needed to find a way to get back into that happiness that rowing brought me.”
After getting back on the erg and talking to different schools about rowing opportunities, he learned his scholarship would travel internationally with him.
“University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, had a rowing team and if I got in, I could bring my scholarship,” said Scott. “I wanted to go there for a new experience. As soon as I got there, I went straight to practice. Remembering where I was with rowing those years ago and how I felt motivated me to push my hardest.”
Representing the university in the men’s eight and lightweight four at the Australia University Games, Scott made the most of his year abroad.
Once again stateside, Scott became a member of Undine Barge Club during his senior year at Arcadia. Practicing in the morning, he also competed with the school’s cross-country team.
Upon graduation, Scott followed his father’s footsteps, as he pursued working in law enforcement. Then, Row New York offered him a position to run the Brooklyn novice program, and he juggled the two careers.
“Working with these young adults, I felt like I was looking at a reflection of myself when I started,” said Scott. “I decided to take a job in D.C. and get involved with Potomac. As an African-American male, I wanted to be the change in law enforcement, but also I really wanted to be able to continue to give back to rowing and diversify the face of the sport. Any way I can, I want to be a face of positive change.”
Now living in Washington, D.C., Scott simultaneously continues his law enforcement career and his involvement with rowing, training and volunteering at Potomac Boat Club. He believes that there continues to be organizations and clubs working to diversify the sport, opening it up to more communities, but there is always room for improvement.
“A lot of these programs need to show what rowing can bring to the table, shedding that light,” said Scott. “In the inner cities, kids see sports on television and the fame that can come from it, but with rowing, there are ways to still find fulfillment. Coming home from Australia, JL Racing had just started their ambassador program, and I was selected to participate. I got a platform to show others what rowing has provided me with.
“In order to face obstacles like recruitment, you have to step into schools and show what rowing can offer. Go back to the successes of your alumni, the families the sport creates. There may only be a few successes in the beginning, but tell those stories, show perspective athletes what rowing can really bring. Scholarships and academic focus is a huge selling point. Talking about the academic piece of all of this is really a great way to go out and get parents interested and involved.”
There is much more that can be done once the sport has been integrated into new communities, especially when messages of success and potential are sent out.
“Honestly, it just starting with that first step,” said Scott. “Bachelors Barge Club, PCR, Row New York, these programs threw themselves out there and stepped into these schools and offered a new sport to us. Bring that new opportunity to your neighborhood with the message ‘we want you to make us better.’”